Published On: Wed, Dec 23rd, 2009

G N Devy : Include the excluded to higher education

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G N Devy
G N Devy

Renowned literary critic Prof. G N Devy has said that efforts should be made to extend higher education to excluded sections of the society.  He said, “The country has progressed to create over 350 universities and over 16,000 colleges after the end of its colonial suppression, yet it continues to fail to stem the loss of languages and dialects.” He was speaking at the first of the IGNOU Silver Jubilee Lecture Series on ‘Aphasia, Amnesia and Inequalities : Narratives of Marginalisation’.

Professor Devy, has been honoured by innumerable national and international awards for his dedicated work for the tribals in the country.

“It is a phonocide, with far more damaging effects than genocide”, he said. This loss of language or ‘Aphasia’ has led to exclusion of the majority of people from higher education and only 5 percent are enjoying it today, he added.

The lecture offered a comment on construction of “knowledge” during the colonial period leading to a loss of correspondence between “production of knowledge” and the cultural context within which the knowledge thus produced came to be situated.

Devy related his decades-long work on tribal cultures and ethnicity to point out how several inappropriate descriptive categories came to be employed for the social narratives. He added that this inappropriate influences are at work to institute new processes of fragmentation in terms of ‘tribal’ and ‘notified’ communities. It is an onslaught onto an already fragmented society of the ethnic dialects and liguistic expressions.

Delving into the dialectical diversity of the country, its complex “spectrum” and lack of easy access to higher education, he said all are the results of the three colonial legacies, Aphasia, Amnesia and Inequalities. “Loss is not for the minor tongues, some major languages also lost identity, particularly in the younger generation who have lost all connections with the written language of their origin”, he stressed.

He defined Amnesia as the loss of the medium from the content of learning. Referring to Macaulay’s 1935 minutes pronounced at the British Parliament in 1832, Devy said the higher education was made accessible to three universities of the country, and not everywhere. That was an effective way to deny access to higher education.

The colonial masters were there to decide who should go for the Higher Education and who should not. To stem this, attempt was first made at Jadavpur University by setting up a cell for study scopes of Higher Education for majority Indians. The institutes of learning worked to induce cultural amnesia, he said.

Touching upon inequalities he said that the issue of inequalities rises from locations of a person. Denial of Higher Education is the real weapon to ensure inequality. Marginalisation far outnumber the dominant members, who formed the 5% at best. That dominant status is still continuing in the country. Even as we find Muslims, who according to the 2001 census form 16.4% of the entire population totaling about 17.5 crore do not get enough access to higher education. The Denotified Adivasis and Nomadic Tribals (DANTs) are also denied access to any of the over 350 universities or 16,000 colleges that the country is boasting of. We only hope this figure grows better towards improvement when the country will have about 1,000 more universities in about ten years time, and IGNOU is a strong step forward to that direction, he said.

Devy charted a number of challenges. Opening of more colleges in rural India is a solution to stem the marginalization of disadvantaged. It is a challenge. He mentioned that of over 16,000 colleges in the country only 10 are in rural India.

Another challenge is to close the gap of the rural and urban students. “We have to grapple with a multiple layers of denials to tribal people and other disadvantaged groups, and “this is a complex challenge”, he said.